Monday, February 29, 2016

Beginning to bud

Father and daughter in Central Park. 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, February 29, 2016. Sixty degrees and sunny Sunday afternoon in New York. After a cold, dry weekend with temps in the 30s.

Saturday night I went to a dinner outside the city. My hosts specifically asked that I not write about it. Which is fine with me, even a relief at times. There are still people who like to keep private private in a world where people are banging down the door to be public. We’ve been Kardashian-ized. Michael McCarty told me last week, just having come in from LA, that the young woman sitting next to him on the plane spent the first four solid hours of the flight looking at photos of herself on her cell. Non-stop. Kardashian-ized.
With temperatures up in the low 60s yesterday, I noticed the buds on the tree in front of my terrace were beginning to bud. This is about three weeks earlier than last year.
During cocktails, Donald Trump came up in conversation with several people. He has never been an unfamiliar name to any New Yorker of last thirty years, but this time is definitely different. There are usually two responses now at the mention of his name. For. Or Against. The “Fors” are quieter about it, even sotto voce – from both sides of the party aisle. The “Againsts” just blurt it out making a face with a word or two.

At table, one of my dinner partners — a highly regarded professional, an even-tempered, thoughtful person — spoke briefly, easily, and off-the-cuff about the Donald, as well as other members of the Trump family whom he’s known for years. He had very complimentary things to say about the man and how he’d serve in the office. He also believed he could be very effective because he is not a politician. (Or hasn’t been until recently.)

Click to order "The Last of the President’s Men."
Avoiding discussion of the current situation, I brought up the new Bob Woodward book, “The Last of the President’s Men” which is about Alexander Butterfield, the Nixon staffer who testified before the Watergate Committee that the Oval Office was bugged. It so happened that my dinner partner had just read it also, and he was raving about it.

I had bought it a couple of Fridays ago, and opened it up to have a look when I got home. If you know anything about that time and about the Watergate Scandal saga, and Richard Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency, you’ll find this un-putdown-able. Butterfield is an American Everyman character.  His natural view of the Presidency is clean and simple, as well as unnerving. Many Americans share it. I finished it that Sunday night. And I’m a slow reader.

I, like millions of others watched almost all of the Watergate Hearings, some of the greatest shows about human theater and all its foibles and effronteries. This book brought all those feelings back. I was not a Richard Nixon fan although I am not one of those individuals who “hates” people because they’re not going my way. There was always a sad side to Mr. Nixon, and it grew sadder as time passed and evoked empathy. Reminded of that in this book, it made me recall the famous letter he wrote to his mother when he was a boy, signing it: “Love, Your Dog, Richard.”
Fred Thompson, Senator Howard Baker, and Rufus Edmisten lighting up at at the Senate Watergate Hearings.
His discomfort in his public life, or social public life, was recognizable and clearly something he was born with or developed very early in his life, as it is with all of us. Everything changed of course, when he reached the Oval Office. Once there you become God to a lot of people. A kind of enforced narcissism accrues and delusion delivers. Alas Poor Richard destroyed himself with it.
The Oscars. I didn’t watch, so I don’t have anything to say about last night’s show. Part of the attraction has always been how disappointing they were, but fun to recall in conversation with other watchers.

I watched it for years and then fell out of interest. The first time I watched was in the early 50s, a kid, “staying up late” lying on the living room rug in my big sister’s house, in front of her 17 inch TV (a giant screen at that time). What remains in memory of those first televised Oscars was the glamour – the wowser, other-worldliness – to this wide-eyed kid – the klieg lights outside the Pantages Theater in Hollywood – where the shiny Cadillacs with their rear tail fins lined up to deliver the stars.
Cadillacs were the ultimate car to any kid who loved cars. I think there were only three people in my hometown who drove Caddys. So it was very impressive to see one Caddy after another pull up to the theater’s canopy with someone famous alighting, as the fans behind the ropes on the aisle were screaming with joy.

The thing is, in those days you didn’t see movie stars all the time. You saw them in the monthly magazines and very occasionally on TV.  The Oscars was the only time that you saw a lot of them at once, off-screen as it were, and looking splendid and gorgeous and handsome and larger than life. This was the intention. They were the ultimate brands and marketed like precious jewels; special, and intended for public consumption. The thing that dreams were made of – not the movie but the stars themselves.
That “distance” from the moviegoer lent an aura of mystery, life in the movies. Stars sold the product. The MGM stars did not go out of the house, for example, unless they looked as good as they looked on the screen. To do otherwise could cause suspension of contract. Now they often go out on the street and frequently look not unlike the young people who are panhandling these days along Fifth Avenue.

When I was first back in New York from my years in Los Angeles, I’d go to Oscar parties at restaurants or private apartments with a lot of media people. Hardly anyone watched the screen and if you wanted to, you couldn’t hear it anyway because of all the conversations going on around it. A lot of the guests never actually saw the show.  I eventually gave it up. Or it gave me up. Nevertheless, a lot of my friends are devout moviegoers, or rather movie fans. They see almost everything and are always looking forward to more. What I do hear all the time from them is how great the latest picture is. I’m sure they were watching last night.
Clark Gable and Doris Day, co-stars in "Teachers Pet" in 1958, at the Pantages where they were co-presenters that year.

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